July 19, 2018

A postcard of a Howard Johnson’s in Nashua, New Hampshire. Credit: Boston Public Library / Flickr

2015 was the first year that Americans spent more money on bars and restaurants than on groceries. And with attention-grabbing chefs and buzzy new places to eat… it feels like restaurants have never been more central to American life. But how did we get there? Paul Freedman, Yale historian and author of the book "Ten Restaurants That Changed America," charts their course from Delmonico’s to Howard Johnson’s.

Three Takeaways:

  • The first chain restaurant that truly took advantage of America’s highways? Howard Johnson’s. They developed a wholesome, hygienic, family-friendly atmosphere that we now take for granted, but was wholly new in the 1920s.
  • Howard Johnson’s did more than rule the road. It created the concept of a carbon copy menu so customers knew what they were getting regardless of the Hojo they were in. And that idea would catch on with other fast food giants, like McDonald’s.
  • Freedman attributes today’s emphasis on fresh, local, and seasonal food to Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. Before the 1970s, American consumers were concerned with variety instead of quality, but after Chez Panisse, that changed. 

More reading:

Culture, restaurants, paul freedman, history

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